Building the World

January 1, 2018
by buildingtheworld

2018: Celebrate the 8’s

“Green 8 in a Sea of Blue.” Earth Observatory Image:

Seen from space, the Americas look a bit like a green 8 in a sea of blue. One glance reveals our planet is made of regions, not nations. Rivers do not stop at lines arbitrarily drawn on a map: transboundary waters are shared resources. Another interconnection: land use, including transport. Great rail systems of history such as the Trans-Siberian or Canadian Pacific railways redefined connection through rapidly advancing transit technologies. Now, electric highways, autonomous vehicles, and hyperloop transit could link continents in innovation.

In 2018, Canada, Mexico, and the United States debate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Negotiations should include transboundary water resources; legal precedent of the Colorado River Compact may help address current considerations. Nafta truckers could pioneer automated highways that might steer negotiations. But Nafta may be too small to address macro issues.

Is it now time to extend the north american discussion, to a broader regional scope? Afta Nafta. Decisions about water quality in one nation may impact another; transit links continents, not countries. Oceans may ultimately determine the fate of cities: from Natal to New York, many are coastal. What if everyone in the Americas learned at least one of the languages of their neighbors? Language-based education and cultural exchange might stir innovation in areas such as shared water resources, intelligent highways, public health, and rights. Could there be a regional tour of beauty, instead of a tour of duty? Xchange students and volunteers could form corps maintaining readiness for disaster response (by definition, regional) while practicing environmental service, in an updated CCC of the Americas. Potential logo? Green 8 in a Circle of Blue.

It might be noted that 8, viewed on the horizontal plane, is the infinity symbol. System scientists may suggest that two interconnecting loops could form a renewing system. The infinity symbol was the creation, in 1655, of John Wallis (he also served as chief cryptographer for Parliament). Whether it remains infinite or not, our shared environment depends upon our actions. Perhaps it is time to dedicate at least one year, per decade, to improvement of our shared resources: celebrate the 8’s by honoring interconnection.

“Infinity Symbol” Image: wikimedia commons

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

December 15, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Words and Swords

Word balloon types. Image: wikimedia commons.

Code talk and authorizations. What is the not-so-hidden code in a government directive that certain words or phrasing not be used in budget proposals, lest those words become swords killing the possibility of funding. Forbidden phrases: “science-based” and “evidence-based.” Word prohibitions include “diversity” and “vulnerable.” Authorizations throughout history have varied: some were a notes scrawled from parent to child, as in the Trans-Siberian Railway. Others were private handshakes made public, as in the New River. A few espoused values for the future of humanity: the Atomic Energy Act set the guiding purpose of peace. But de-authorizing certain code words by directive may be one of the few instances where values are so explicitly defined, and demanded. Summing up the reaction of many, Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, tweeted: “Here’s a word that’s still allowed: ridiculous.”

What do you think about “science-based” and “evidence-based?” What about the other directives? Can language ever be changed, or is it beyond directive? Abram de Swaan, of the Amsterdam School for Social Research, University of Amsterdam, observed that military conquests cause the spread of new wordings and even languages, but as soon as the newcomers are ousted, language returns to its natural evolution.

De Swaan, Abram. Words of the World: The Global Language System. Wiley 2013. ISBN: 9780745676982. Originally published, Polity Books, 2001.

Sun, Lena H. and Juliet Eilperin. “CDC gets list of forbidden words: Fetus, transgender, diversity.” 15 December 2017. The Washington Post

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

November 24, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Water Park

Marine life will be protected in Mexico’s new ocean preserve. Image: wikimedia commons.

Mexico created a macro water park; the Revillagigedo Archipelago will be the largest ocean marine reserve in North America. It’s a ban on all fishing in a protected zone of 57,000 square miles (150,000 square kilometers). Another prohibition? Extraction of natural resources. The grouping of volcanic islands is located on the crossing of two ocean currents, making the reserve a meeting and breeding site for marine life including whales. Mexico’s preserve avoids further hotel building. Another approach, in Singapore, is a marine life park within a resort, preserving 800 species. Marine reserves in the Pacific include a preserve of 193,000 square miles in Palau. As the oceans become increasingly challenged by many factors including overfishing, acidification, and plastic pollution, Mexico’s marine reserve is a gift to the future.

BBC. “Mexico creates huge national park to protect marine life.” 25 November 2017.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

July 14, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Eye on the Sky

Jupiter’s “Red Eye in the Sky” image by citizen scientist Jason Major using data from the Juno NASA mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SWRI/MSSS/Jason Major.

Juno met Jupiter this week. NASA‘s Juno mission flew over the planet’s 10,000-mile-wide (16,000 kilometers) storm, so big that three earths could fit inside of the Great Red Spot. Since 1830, sky-watchers have kept an eye on this mysterious spot marking a storm that has raged for eons. When the Juno mission launched in 2011, the spacecraft did not arrive in orbit around Jupiter until July 4, 2016. Since then, it’s been photographing Jupiter, and will continue operations until 2018. Knowledge gained by Juno may serve useful in updating the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space that entered into force in 1967. Principles include:

“Exploration of space for the benefit of all countries and all humankind;

Outer space not subject to national appropriation or occupation;

Outer space to be free of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction;

Countries and states shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects;

The Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

At the start of the Space Race, only governments were thought to be financially and technologically capable of Space missions. But now private enterprise has taken impressive steps; Weinzierl and Acocella recently introduced a Harvard Business School case on the ownership of space with a close up of Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin. Planetary Resources, Inc, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic are also prominent, joined now by an enterprise hoping to win Google’s $20million Lunar X Prize, Moon Express.

COMSAT might be an organizational model to follow. On 31 August, 1962 the Communications Satellite Act became law and set a new tone of inclusiveness that transformed the space race with greater multinational, public/private cooperation. New agreements about the future of space may foretell a mixed-economy organization to promote world-wide distribution of solar power.

Outer Space Treaty:

Google Lunar X Prize:


Space Solar Power:

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

April 14, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Why is an Orange like a Light Bulb?

The water-energy-food nexus may influence the growing of oranges, in competition for lightbulbs and drinking water. Image: wikimedia commons.

Did you know that growing one orange requires 13.8 gallons of water? Next time you crunch into an almond, you’ll consume the result of one gallon. California grows both: a result, in part, of the Colorado River Compact. Edward Spang of the University of California Davis, as well as colleagues including David H. Marks of MIT, predict competition for water use will increase in the water-energy-food nexus. Spang developed a water consumption for energy production (WCEP) indicator, comparing the use of water for different forms of energy in over 150 countries. Fossil fuels and biofuels require the most water; wind is less thirsty. The United Nations cites the World Water Development Report: “If water, energy, and food security are to be simultaneously achieved, decision-makers, including those responsible for only a single sector, need to consider broader influences and cross-sectoral impacts. A nexus approach is needed.”

For more: Spang, Edward. “A Thirst for Power: A Global Analysis of Water Consumption for Energy Production.” GWF Discussion Paper 1246. Global Water Forum, Canberra, Australia. also see:

“Multiple metrics for quantifying the intensity of water consumption of energy production.” E.S. Spang, W.R. Moomaw, K.S. Gallagher, P. H. Kirshen, and D.H. Marks. 8 October 2014. Environmental Research Letters, Volume 9, Number 10.

Ahuja, Satinder, Editor. Food, Energy, and Water. Elsevier 2015.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

March 24, 2017
by buildingtheworld

Rivers are people, too

“Reflection of the Taj Mahal on the Yamuna River.” Image: wikimedia.

The first country in the world to give rights to a river was New Zealand: the Whanganui, the country’s longest, has received the environmental protection long sought by the Maori. Now, India has given human status and rights to two sacred rivers. The Ganges is protected, as is the river of the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan acquired the land near the Yamuna to use the river as a ‘keel’ to balance the massive iconic monument. How are the rights of a river represented? New Zealand’s river will be represented in legal matters by one of the Maori people and one representative of the crown government. India anticipates environmental rights will now be protected, having declared the Ganges and Yamuna are “legal and living entities having the status of a legal person with all corresponding rights, duties, and liabilities.” Bolivia decreed the rights of Earth in Ley 071 de Derechos de la Madre Tierra.

For New Zealand’s Whanganui River’s legal status: and To hear the Maori chant: “Ko au te awa. Ko te awa ko au.”:

For India’s Ganges and Yamuna Rivers and rights:

For Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra, Law 071 of Bolivia:

For Pope Francis and environmental ethics:

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

December 24, 2016
by buildingtheworld

Protective Freeze on Melting Seas

Ursus Maritimus: a family of polar bears. Image: wikimedia commons.

20 December 2016: Canada and the United States moved to protect designated areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, making the waters off limits to leasing and oil drilling. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in Alaska, emptying quantities of crude oil into the waters and damaging 1,300 miles of coastal land. Animals in the area are still struggling to recover. More recently, Shell’s drilling ship Kulluk ran into Arctic trouble: the accident halted any further exploration for oil. The December 20, 2016 agreement, signed cooperatively between Canada and the United States, regards the Arctic Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, and the Atlantic Ocean from Virginia to New England. Canada and the United States also cooperated in the face of danger when building the Alaska Highway. Recently, the Antarctic Marine Sanctuary in the Ross Sea created the first marine protected area in international waters, during the meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). In shared waters, cooperative agreements can place a protective freeze on melting seas.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

December 16, 2016
by buildingtheworld

Water Weal

“Una gota de agua.” Photographer: Jose Manuel Suarez, 2008. Image with permission: wikimedia commons.

We can live three weeks without food, but only three days without water. A Texas town has closed schools, and issued a warning not to use tap water to drink, cook, wash, or irrigate. The cause? Back-flow of industrial chemicals, petroleum-based. A crisis of water pollution spurred building of the Roman aqueducts; in 1846, the world’s first water treatment plant was invented in England, due to a cholera crisis. England had long practiced water weal (as in common weal or commonwealth). When King James I of England and Hugh Myddleton, entrepreneur (and formerly jeweler to His Majesty) collaborated, in 1605, to bring fresh water to London, the New River transformed the fate, and future, of the metropolis. How can we bring safe water to over one billion people who lack access? Innovations, such as filters developed by Askwar Hilonga or the team of Annan, Kan-Dapaah, Azeko, and Soboyejo, can lift the billions who suffer from access. Will aging infrastructure, in places like Flint, Michigan, lead to responsible stewardship? Initiatives such as Jardine’s MeterSave, may help to sustain this most precious resource. Water is one of five failures facing the future. Today, what can you do to protect water?

Annan, Ebenezer, Kwabena Kan-Dapaah, Salifu T. Azeko, Wole Soboyejo. “Clay Mixtures and the Mechanical Properties of Microporous and Nonporous Ceramic Water Filters.” Journal of Materials in Civil Engineering 28 (10):04016105, May 2016.

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

July 20, 2016
by buildingtheworld

Moon: Property Rights

Lunar property rights? Image: wikimedia commons.

July 20, 1969: “A giant leap for mankind” as the first human set foot upon the moon in Nasa’s Apollo mission. Two years before, the Outer Space Treaty was signed with the provision that celestial bodies not be owned by any nation; at the time, only governments had enough resources for space exploration. Today, enterprises like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Planetary Resources, Inc. are commercializing the heavens. The Google Lunar X Prize stimulated interest in space resources. European Space Agency and Luna-Resurs plan to drill the lunar south pole where “water and other volatiles” might be discovered. China and Japan are readying moon forays. Martin Elvis of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Tony Milligan of King’s College London, and Alanna Krolikowski of Georg-August University Göttingen published, in Space Policy, a warning regarding the moon’s ‘Peaks of Eternal Light’ where a photovoltaic solar power installation could be positioned. In 2015, the Space Resource Exploration and Utilization Act clarified rights. Professor Matthew Weinzierl and Angela Acocella have written a Harvard Business School case, “Blue Origin, NASA, and New Space.” Could COMSAT provide a model for international cooperation? Before enterprises claim rights, how should the Outer Space Treaty be updated?

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

October 12, 2015
by buildingtheworld

Indigenous Peoples Day: We were here first

The Atlantic Rim. Image: Voyages of Columbus from wikimedia commons.

Indigenous Peoples Day reminds us that no new worlds are discovered, just met. Although Leif Erikson, celebrated on 9 October, may have been the first European to “discover” America, Columbus had a contract. The history of those agreements is telling. Once word traveled, Spain and Portugal (to the detriment of established residents of lands visited by Columbus) claimed “rights” in the 7 June, 1497 Treaty of Tordesillas, to divide the world via an imaginary line in Atlantic ocean (in 1529, the Treaty of Zaragoza would similarly claim Pacific rights). The founding of Singapore, and creation of Panama, are more recent proclamations of new territories. World views of yore seem shockingly xenophobic today, but contracts between Columbus and the Castile court of 17 and 30 April, 1492, as well as papal bulls of Alexander VI of May 3 and 4, 1493, may provide some of the few precedents for laws, treaties and declarations that might be anticipated as mineral rights in the oceans are debated, for example in the Atlantic. Should the matter be decided by the peoples of the Atlantic Rim? We will soon see agreements regarding new worlds discovered in space. Standing on the shoulders of history, can we build a better world?

On Indigenous Peoples Day:

United Nations, International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, August 9:

Holley, Peter. “More cities celebrating ‘Indigenous People’s Day’ amid effort to abolish Columbus Day.” 11, October 2015. The Washington Post.

On Leif Erikson:

Anderson, Rasmus Bjorn (1874). “America Not Discovered by Columbus: an historical sketch of the discovery of America by the Norsemen in the Tenth Century.” Chicago: S.C. Griggs.

For oceans:

Robert F. Pietrowski Jr., “Hard Minerals on the Deep Ocean Floor: Implications for American Law and Policy,” 19 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 43 (1977),

On the Atlantic Rim:

The New Urban Atlantic series, Palgrave Macmillan.

Barron, James and Marjorie Arons-Barron, The Atlantic Rim, Boston, MA and research archive, University of Massachusetts Boston.

Kresl, Peter Karl. “The Atlantic Rim: A New Conceptualization of Pan-Atlantic Relationships,” Bucknell University and The Atlantic Rim.…/The_Atlantic_Rim/. pdf.

Raymond Lloyd, “An atlantic rim partnership,” International NGO Journal Vol. 4 (7), pp. 337-339, July, 2009.

On space:

Ali, Yasmin. “Who owns outer space?” 25 September 2015, Science & Environment,

Building the World Blog by Kathleen Lusk Brooke and Zoe G Quinn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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